In 2011, Microsoft acquired Skype; Facebook's and Twitter's advertising platforms gained momentum; Google joined the social networking party with Google+; social became a mainstream component within search-engine results pages (SERPs); and Congress called for increased disclosure by companies providing location-based services.

As 2012 follows on the heels of such events, what digital changes and trends should forward-thinking marketers anticipate? Here are Optify's Top 12 predictions for the year ahead.

1. Marketing automation 2.0 will arrive, ushering in mature software and increasing enterprise adoption

Historically, marketing automation has consisted primarily of email and email nurturing. In 2011, however, we witnessed the expansion of social customer relationship management (CRM). Marketing automation is now one of the fastest growing segments of the CRM industry.

In 2012, it will evolve from being an early-adopter tool into a mainstream solution for organizations that want to connect marketing operations, from the very top of the funnel, to online search, and down through sales and customer management.

Industry players like Aprimo, Eloqua, Marketo, and Optify (our company) will continue to shape the marketing automation 2.0 revolution.

2. Customers and employees will become an extended part of companies' marketing teams

As social networks are used ever-more frequently for aggregating and sharing interests, expect opinions, positive or negative, about products and services to spread with lightening speed. As a result, businesses' customer relationships will become increasingly focused on creating and managing perceptions.

In 2010, companies began listening to customers' wants and needs via social buzz. In 2011, they focused on responding to digital customer commentary. In 2012, companies will need to move the needle forward, scaling marketing efforts by creating and sharing information with employees and influential customer evangelists to help define their brands, products, and services from the ground up.'s recent extension of its chatter feature, which allows businesses to share information and files with their customers via a hosted network, is early evidence of this trend.

3. SoPo (social personalization) will be on the rise

"Keeping up with the Joneses" has never been so transparent. The power of referrals and recommendations will be fine-tuned and harnessed to encourage and persuade others to follow their friends' leads.

With an ever-increasing social network footprint, and the explosion of data fueling it, expect networked recommendations to become more ubiquitous (e.g., your friend's friend likes this product).

Content recommendations on Facebook stores and participating e-commerce sites will be increasingly powered and filtered by friends' preferences (see "Likes" and "Social TV" below). Social sign-on, group sharing, and universal wish lists will even make personalization on smaller sites possible, and collaborative filtering will create connections between people in unanticipated and creative ways.

4. "Likes" will intersect with multimedia

"Likes" will begin to influence more than just online text content. Digital video content providers will assume friends share "Like" preferences for video content. In turn, they will tailor and filter programming to you based on the "Likes" you and your friends provide.

By anticipating what you'll be most inclined to watch, digital providers will help you cut through the growing expanse of online multimedia content. It's highly probable that Facebook, either via acquisition or via a partnership with companies like BuddyTV or Hulu, will explore or invest in "Social TV."

5. Location-based marketing will grow, and certain customer use cases will shift predominantly to mobile

In specific markets, such as travel, shopping, and dining, customer engagement and purchases will happen more frequently via mobile device. A recent study found that one-third of all American adults use smartphones, and that percentage will continue to rise.

Travel-related click-through-rates are already higher on mobile devices than on PCs, and location-based marketing—fueled by the likes of Foursquare—will continue to soar.

This holiday season, we'll see the majority of last-minute gift and store searches happen via mobile device. And with 50% of last-minute shopping projected to be done via mobile device in 2015, marketers in 2012 will have to consider mobile in their usage mix as adoption of the mobile smart device becomes increasingly universal.

6. The discount economy will grow even larger

Considering the flagging economy and consumers' income woes, offers from companies such as Groupon, Living Social, and niche players like One Kings Lane and Zulily, will have an even greater uptick in 2012. Those companies will grow more than many have previously forecast.

Even has gotten into the local deals mix, recognizing the value of even deeper discounts for customers. At the same time, daily-deal offerings will become increasingly hyper-local. Players intelligent about using the mobile market and geo-based offers will be category winners.

7. Social media ads will become a significant part of the advertising mix

At the end of 2010, Twitter had 150 customers using its paid advertising program. In Q2 of 2011, it had increased its advertising customer base to 600, with an 80% rate of renewal. Moreover, in 2011, Facebook's brand advertising revenue rose 104% from Q1 to Q2.

But even in light of those tremendous gains, Twitter, Facebook, and other social networks have only begun to scratch the surface of potential advertising revenue streams.

In 2012, marketers across the board, from big and small companies, will include social networks as a line item in their online paid advertising budgets because those networks will make access to their hundreds of millions of users more accessible.

8. Social networks will become a more significant source of organic search traffic and a greater influencer of SERPs

As social networks become an increased source of paid traffic, they will also become an increased referral source of organic search traffic. In 2011, small and medium businesses, typically technology followers, began using social media more frequently, perceiving it to be an effective marketing medium.

In 2012, we can expect that trend to rise, especially as social media buzz becomes a mainstream component of SERPs. For companies that wish to preserve or improve their rankings, social marketing activities will no longer be optional; in 2012, they will be a necessary element of traffic-driving success.

9. Google antitrust will continue to be a thorny issue

Heading into 2012, Google is being investigated globally as an antitrust offender. Google's overwhelming market dominance puts it squarely under the worldwide legal microscope for any anticompetitive actions.

With 80% of Yelp traffic, for example, derived from Google, and 30% of Google searches resulting in traffic to the largest e-commerce sites on the Internet, Google's power is indisputable. As a result, Google's business practices will continue to endure intense scrutiny and encounter legal challenges.

10. Focus on social media ROI will be top of mind

As businesses move from initial adoption of social media marketing toward the next stage of reflection and refinement, they'll be seeking data that clearly indicates the cost-effectiveness of social media campaigns.

With another year of experimentation and trial under their belt, marketers will be more sophisticated and adept at navigating the social media channel. In turn, they will be more demanding of tools that effectively enable tracking, measuring, and improving ROI.

11. Virtual teams will become more common

The globalization of the workforce will continue to mushroom with low-cost access services becoming more prevalent.

As more effective video-conference, document-share, shared schedules, and various other online project-management and workflow technologies are introduced to the market, the ability to communicate and work with virtual teams will become ever-more efficient.

We've witnessed a growing trend of employees working in distant states, countries, or continents who are considered integral parts of core business operations. Remote employees are being woven into the fabric of our companies, working virtually side-by-side with locally based employees to create and deliver winning products.

12. Facebook will advance social commerce and give Amazon a run for its money

It's undeniable that Amazon and Facebook are the market dominators of their markets: online shopping and social networking, respectively. But to date, those two markets have experienced very little crossover. That's odd, considering the tremendous opportunity to marry those markets. After all, isn't it an enjoyable pastime for friends to shop together?

Facebook will make it easier for friends to do just that by providing an environment and online-shopping experience that are entirely different from the way we shop on Amazon.

It is only a matter of time before shoppers trade in a trip to the mall in exchange for an online buying spree with virtual friends via shared screens, video chats, and group-buying discounts.

(Image courtesy of Bigstock, Seeing The Future.)

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Brian Goffman is CEO and co-founder of Optify, a leading provider of marketing software and services for the real-time Web.